I am the designated “birthday baker” in my family. If, like me, you share the responsibility of making sure everyone has a dessert suited to their taste and season of birth then you know it is a duty that is both rewarding and demanding. In my case, it doesn’t help that I have a relatively large nuclear family and we have a “birthday season” that runs from June to November (one birthday a month for six months). After its over, I put my feet up (not actually I have a tragic aversion to relaxation) and enjoy my respite from buttercream until next June rolls around.
Some family members are staunchly unvarying in their requests. It’s always german chocolate in August and carrot in November, without fail. And I, too, quite like tradition especially when it comes to birthdays and holidays. I think it really helps to amplify the feeling of a holiday when there are tangible, better yet edible, cues to get you in the spirit. Other family members are more lax with their requests, or refuse to give me any at all, in which case I get to shake things up a a bit.
This particular birthday occasion is a very special one because it is my sweet, dear, angel brother’s 30th birthday. He’s also a chef so the food stakes are high.
Since my brother is a Japanophile (it’s a word), the foundation of this pudding is Shokupan, a Japanese milk bread that is known for its super soft and fluffy interior. He also happens to be a strawberry shortcake-ophile (not a word, though it should be) which is where I took inspiration for this dessert. It’s basically old-fashioned bread pudding with a twist and the best part is you don’t even have to turn on the oven.
As the pudding sets up overnight, the layers of bread absorb all the berry goodness and the end result is a dessert that’s familiar enough to be comforting but still exciting. Topped with a dollop of honey-matcha whipped cream (which tastes bizarrely like Honey Smacks cereal), you have a dessert that’s impressive in both taste and presentation but secretly super easy. The best kind.
Shokupan & Berry Pudding
For the Pudding:
- 2 pounds strawberries (2-16 oz. containers or about 3 pints)
- 2 half-pints raspberries
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 tablespoons sake (rice wine), if desired
- 1 1/2 loaves Shokupan bread (or about 15 slices)
Hull and slice strawberries. (I use the bottom of a piping tip to scoop out hulls). Combine strawberries, sugar, and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add half of the raspberries and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer. Let simmer for one minute, remove from heat and stir in the remaining raspberries and the sake.
If the bread is not already sliced (mine was), cut into 1/2 inch slices and trim off crusts. Cut bread across on an angle to form triangles, this will help to get neat and attractive layers. You may need to trim bread into even smaller triangles and pieces as you go along so have a knife handy. In a round baking dish with high sides (like a soufflé dish, mine was 7 1/2 inches across and about 3 inches high) ladle about 1/2 cup of the berry mixture in the bottom. Now arrange a layer of Shokupan neatly on top of the berry mixture. The layering of the bread is a bit like a puzzle (fittingly Japanese) but as long as the layer goes all the way to the sides of the dish you’ll be fine. Ladle another 3/4 cup or so of berries and continue on to next bread layer. At the end you should have four layers of bread. Pour over any remaining berries onto the last layer of bread and then lay a piece of plastic wrap over the entire top.
Place a plate that is about the same size of the dish you’re using across the top of the dish and use a heavy can or jar to weigh it down. Place dish on a plate (there may be drips) and place in refrigerator. After about 6 hours, remove can or jar and continue to refrigerate overnight.
When you’re ready to serve, loosen pudding from sides of dish by running a knife around the outside a few times. Place a plate on top of dish and then flip over entire thing to invert it. You should hear a sucking, vacuum type sound and that means the pudding has dropped. If you don’t hear this, turn it back upside down and run a knife around sides again (it took me two times for it to drop). Slice into cake-size pieces with a sharp, serrated knife.
For the Whip:
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon matcha powder
Whip cream in a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. When it starts to become stiff, add powdered sugar, honey and matcha powder and continue whipping until it forms stiff peaks.
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten’s Summer Pudding with Rum Whipped Cream from her book Family Style.